Nutritional Psychiatry

edited February 18 in General Nutrition

Until recently, I didn't know this was a thing. Really fascinating. In the USA at least, we live in a very medicine-focused culture.

Articles worth reading:

So, I am not professionally studying nutrition, but I would like to. My backstory is that I know someone who has been vegan for 8 years or so – vegetarian for the 10 years before that. She has been raising her now-3-year-old son vegan since before birth. Thankfully, her baby is very healthy according to their pediatrician. That is not my point. She has been heavily plant-based, now plant-only, for many years but I worry her diet isn't as optimized for her mental health as it could be. She has been relying on medicine for mental health (bipolar and ADHD to name 2) and an auto-immune disorder for at least a decade now.

I used to take medicine for mental health, also, for at least a decade myself, but all I did was cut out caffeine and alcohol, and doing so appears to have relieved my anxiety disorder in the span of several months (my activity level remained the same otherwise; but my sleep increased as a result of cutting alcohol + caffeine; my water intake increased, as well). I have been focused on my micronutrients for the last 3 months thanks to Cronometer and I feel like a lot of previous symptoms have been relieved for my anxiety, depression, and even my ability to focus (ADHD symptoms). I used to see a therapist and psychiatrist every day for years, but I stopped recently because I just haven't felt the need to. My psychiatrist even expressed joy that she didn't need to prescribe anything for me because it seemed like I was doing fine, and she praised me for cutting caffeine and alcohol (she didn't even play a part in it, lol – she previously just kept prescribing medicine based on my symptoms despite me being transparent with my alcohol + caffeine intake)!

My dad has bipolar disorder, and my mother has general anxiety & schizophrenia and so does my brother. It isn't uncommon in general for people to take depression and anxiety for granted, that they are just a part of life. But I feel like they don't have to be, if you can focus on optimal nutrition for yourself as an individual.

Is this field (nutritional psychiatry) worth exploring further? Is it hokey? Is my understanding of its potential just a pipe dream? Or can it be possible to use food as medicine for diagnosed mental health disorders?

I'm 32 y/o. My current field is in web/graphic design (and 3D modeling/animation), but Cronometer has allowed me to run short-term N=1 tests on myself (and I plan to do more) for nutrient-related curiosities and explore the effects of nutrition further. I'm thinking about a career change into nutrition, particularly if it can help with mental health.

What do you think about nutritional psychiatry?


  • @gg2112

    Happy to chime in as both a dietitian and someone that's been eating a plant-based diet since 2007. First, we know that a well-planned plant-based diet is healthy and balanced for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy and athletics. I do recommend moms meet with an RD skilled in this area since nutrition education for infants doesn't normalize this pattern of eating.

    Nutritional psychiatry is, at best, in its infancy. It would be incredible to recommend diet changes to resolve mental health conditions, but we know that this is just not an effective treatment for many. However, some people do respond phenomenally well to nutrition interventions, especially when you correct deficiencies in fibre, vitamin B12, iron, etc. My advice to anyone with a mental health condition is that diet and nutrition is complementary, but unlikely the cure to the illness.

    I also wanted to mention that there can be a behavioral influence of dietary change as eating better can lead people to feel more in control, empowered, and fulfilled, which can positively impact mental well-being.

    Hope this adds some perspective. :)

    Susan Macfarlane, MScA, RD
    Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
    As always, any and all postings here are covered by our T&Cs:

  • I totally believe physical health impacts mental health and vice versa. For most of the cases, i think nutrition and diet change along with lifestyle changes can resolve. Wellbeing is a lot of aspects - Exercise, good relationships, hobbies, food, music,dance, activities. I believe medication can help in the beginning but should be tapered down or stopped after some time. I do not believe in life long medication.So i think holistic psychiatry or integrative psychiatry is the answer. Not sure if only nutrition will resolve the issues. You can try to explore ayurveda and yoga as well.

  • edited March 11

    To address your question globally, most vegan diets will contain at least 20% to 30%+ of calories from fat since tofu, nuts, seeds, flax, chia, avocado are all rich sources of fat. That said, fat, when added from whole-food sources, shouldn't interfere with your body's ability to use insulin, especially if you are active and at a healthy weight for your body.

  • I believe that a healthy diet is one of the four cornerstones of health that are within our control. The other three are exercise, quality sleep and stress management. I've eased toward a healthier diet for the past 3 years since being diagnosed with athersosclerosis. My anxiety disorder has improved due to diet, exercise and good sleep, but I still need a lot of work on stress management. I'm working on that with a professional therapist.

  • I am so sorry that your whole family suffers from mental disorders, depression, and anxiety. Unfortunately, anyone can experience similar symptoms in their lives. Many people refuse help from specialists and are afraid to talk about their problems. In fact, psychological illnesses require a special approach depending on the person's individual characteristics and problems. It is very good that you take therapy, visit a psychologist and try to fight your problems. Depression Counseling is a good way to prevent the development of serious psychological disorders.

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